Fellowship Project: Nature exposure, mental health, and equity: a multi-method approach
Gregory Bratman is the Doug Walker Endowed Assistant Professor of Nature, Health, and Recreation in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington, where he also works with EarthLab’s Nature for Health – a group of collaborators that work to put science into practice in ways that benefit underserved and other populations. This includes leading a project in which he examines the ways in which wilderness experience may help veterans with PTSD; investigating ways to reduce inequities in health through increased access to nature for underserved populations; and looking to build community partnerships in the greater Seattle area.
Gregory’s work takes place at the nexus of psychology, public health, and ecology. His research focuses on examining the ways in which nature experience benefits aspects of mental and physical health. Through empirical and theoretical approaches, he seeks to understand the causal mechanisms that underlie the association of nature contact with cognitive function, mood, and other aspects of health, particularly in urban environments. Gregory employs a variety of methods -such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, psychophysiology, and behavioral assessments- to characterize and develop theoretical models for how people react to their environments, and are influenced by them. He is also working to incorporate the mental health benefits of nature experience into the paradigm of ecosystem services, through the development of a framework that outlines this process.
Gregory earned his PhD from Stanford University, where he was a student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program on Environment and Resources. He continued his work at Stanford as a postdoctoral researcher before coming to the University of Washington in the Fall of 2017. He teaches classes on nature and health, wildland recreation, and science communication.
Nature exposure, mental health, and equity: a multi-method approach
Early life adversity has been associated with a variety of negative mental health outcomes. The “second hit” hypothesis posits that the experience of more than one adverse event may be necessary for the onset of certain mental health disorders. For example, childhood adversity may make an individual more vulnerable to anxiety disorders, but it may be the case that this disease only manifests with the occurrence of exposure to another major life stressor in adulthood. Therefore, finding ways to mitigate the severity of acute, present-day stressors may be one means by which to reduce the association of early life adversity with poor mental health, through a decrease in the magnitude and frequency of the “second hit”. Studies have shown that interventions at the individual or neighborhood level may help to prevent the onset of these negative outcomes, possibly acting as a buffer against the occurrence or magnitude of the “second hit”. Stress reduction theory suggests that nature exposure could potentially operate as such a buffer. Our proposed study provides a crucial first step into the investigation of whether the increased sensitivity to stressors that can be resultant from childhood adversity is decreased when experienced in a natural environment.